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Posts Tagged ‘tv’

In or not in?

I take the following as axiomatic:

1. When you consume media – read a book, watch a TV show, whatever – you become part of the audience of that piece of media.

2. The creators of that piece of media will have had an audience in mind, an audience with characteristics which you may or may not possess.

3. To what extent you are part of the intended audience will have an effect on how you relate to a specific piece of media.

For example, if you are a secondary school pupil reading a book aimed at undergraduates, you can expect to find it a difficult read. Whether you do or not will depend on your own abilities and background knowledge, and on the clarity of the writing.

Sometimes the effects are less clear. For example, I am a white middle-class British woman with a mild interest in cooking, so it would be reasonable to expect that a British cookery show aimed at middle-class women with a white female presenter would be accessible to me. Despite this, I find Nigella Lawson nearly unwatchable. Why? Perhaps partly because she shades into upper-middle class, while I tend towards lower-middle. It is also because of the exact kind of cooking she does: she cooks with meat frequently and alcohol nearly as often, and I never use either. Finally, it seems to have something to do with her appearance and apparent aims. I will never be ‘beautiful’ or ‘attractive’ in the way that Nigella is held to be, and I long ago gave up trying, preferring the comfort and warmth of more modest clothing and the convenience of going make-up free. (This links back into my childhood ‘realisation’ that girls were either beautiful or clever but never both, which may be a post for another day.)

I said once to a friend that no other TV show makes me feel like a failure in the way that Nigella does – by embodying that to which I feel people expect me to conform, she makes me aware of my non-conformity.

On the other hand, some shows whose apparent intended audience is more markedly different from me – for example, where it seems to be aimed at men rather than women – can be much more comfortable to watch. It would be reasonable to expect that a show about cars aimed at men would not appeal to a woman who doesn’t even have a driving license, and yet I find Top Gear watchable, even entertaining. I’ve not quite convinced myself about why this is – perhaps a childhood of reading books and watching shows aimed at boys makes it easy for me to imagine myself into that role, by sheer dint of practice (Dar William’s song “When I Was a Boy” seems to encapsulate perfectly my experience of this: “I won’t forget when Peter Pan came to my house, took my hand/

I said I was a boy; I’m glad he didn’t check”). Wickedday suggests that it’s an effect akin to the Uncanny Valley, in which things close to yourself and yet different give you the creeps. I’m beginning to suspect, though, that as well as those things, there is a level at which it’s about whether you are trying to compare yourself: Nigella is within the range of ‘people next to whom I fall short’ in gender performance, while Jeremy Clarkson is simply in another competition.

This continues to work when I turn to another case: in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I didn’t mind Buffy or Anya or Angel, I liked Spike and Giles and Tara and Xander, but Willow, especially in the early seasons, could make me quite uncomfortable. This feeling intensified after I was explicitly compared to her in a family conversation. The effect is not as strong as with Nigella, but Willow is part of an ensemble rather than a solo presenter, and is not depicted as a perfect role model in the same way. Of course, this example also shows that it’s about things beside gender (perceived geek-level, for one), but I think it’s enough to show that I’m onto something, and that’ll have to do for now.

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